Date: 05/2022

Choosing wheat varieties with inherently strong genetic resistance to pests and diseases has become an increasing priority for Suffolk producer Harry Middleditch in recent years.

The fourth generation to farm at D. F. Middleditch & Son’s Hole Farm near Sudbury, his aim is to reduce growing cost for wheat by 10% with an increasing focus on feed wheats, he explains.

“In so many ways we are on a journey with the farm at present due to uncertainty in almost every aspect of life, but despite the pressures on our industry I remain optimistic that it has a good future.

“Last autumn was very kind and provided ideal conditions for establishing crops, but the weather varies so much from season to season that I am acutely aware that we need to stay flexible across every aspect of our farming business.

“Minimising risk is a key part of my approach and it will become even more important due to reductions in the Basic Payment Scheme over the next five years.”

A high proportion of milling wheat used to be grown but the additional investment needed made it more costly to grow with a lot at stake if milling specification was not achieved, he explains.

‘Nett margins will be the key factor determining what we do going forward, and our focus with wheat is on feed varieties. The goal is to reduce growing cost for wheat to under £100/t, which is about 10% below where we are at present.”

Highest yielding RL wheat

DSV Champion, the highest yielding wheat on the current RL, was initially of interest because of its overall performance and very vigorous early growth, he recalls.

“I was also pleasantly surprised at how well Champion tillered and by its Orange Wheat Blossom Midge resistance.

“Even though the pest has not been a particular issue, my mindset now is to seek out varieties with high genetic resistance to pests and diseases to help reduce dependence on chemical solutions, both for reasons of cost and to mitigate risk.

“All our income is out in the field and exposed to numerous risks for ten months of the year, so we must do everything we can to look after it.

“I walk crops once a week to ensure that our spray timings are spot on, because stretching a T1 or T2 would mean that performance suffers.

“Having robust agronomical varieties enables us to have confidence in the crops that if the weather is not right to go spraying we can stretch each timing if needs be.”

The 14ha of DSV Champion in the ground now is part of 138ha of winter wheat which sits alongside 60ha of winter barley, 60ha of winter beans, 52ha of spring oats and 30ha of spring barley.

“l would have liked a larger area of it this season, but seed was in short supply and that was as much as we were able to secure.”

The crop was drilled 40mm deep on 18 October following a light cultivation and the variety proved very quick to get up and away, he says.

“It was the stand-out variety on the farm in terms of emergence, and nothing could touch it. The crop grew very vigorously during the autumn and tillered exceptionally well, providing intense competition for weeds growing in and between the rows.”

Strong agronomic profile

The crop has looked very strong throughout the winter and came out of the colder months in very good shape, he adds.

“From what I have seen so far Champion is living up to all its breeder’s claims - nothing else can touch it for yield potential.

“It also has a very strong agronomic profile and certainly looks better than anything we have ever grown as a replacement variety in the past, so I expect good things at harvest. Next season I hope to have 50ha in the ground.”

According to DSV’s Sarah Hawthorne, DSV Champion combines a comprehensive disease package with outstanding untreated yield and real-world versatility.

“It topped the Candidate List in 2021/2022 and is currently the overall highest yielding winter wheat on the 2022/2023 AHDB RL.

“Exceptional establishment characteristics make it an ideal choice for late drilling, with a latest sowing date recommendation of the end of February.

“Whatever the soil type, whenever the drilling date and whether it’s grown with full agronomic support or with minimal inputs, DSV Champion has delivered consistently over its five years of trials.”